Secondary not primary

Six players have starting experience

Spring practice interview: Eric Berry, SS

For a defensive back, confidence is just as important as quickness and speed.

In Tennessee's defensive backfield, there's no shortage of confidence. But there is at least some measure of surprise.

Even Eric Berry, UT's freshman All-America safety, didn't think he and his fellow newcomers from last year's recruiting class would be making such a significant impact so early in their careers.

"It was pretty much a shock," Berry said. "When I thought about coming here, I was pretty much thinking I'd come and play nickel back. I just wanted to watch the show, and I ended up being in the show.

"It was kind of a big surprise."

For Tennessee, it was a pleasant one.

Last August, Berry figured to be a significant player in the defensive backfield.

But Dennis Rogan? DeAngelo Willingham? Brent Vinson?

Even a crystal clear crystal ball wouldn't have showed those names and faces on the field in crucial moments way back during two-a-days.

"Some of the guys that are back there now didn't even play defensive back starting out," said Rogan, a Class 3A Mr. Football finalist from Fulton High School. "It took a little bit of learning and gelling together, but it's pretty good now."

It's only getting better.

Demetrice Morley returns after a year away from school, which will help ease the loss of All-SEC performer Jonathan Hefney at safety.

By the time fall camp opens in August, cornerbacks Antonio Gaines and Marsalous Johnson - UT's starting cornerbacks in last year's season-opener at Cal - will be back from knee injuries.

All told, the Vols return six players with starting experience in the secondary.

That's not lost on defensive coordinator John Chavis.

"There are some guys that have to prove themselves, but probably as good a situation going into spring practice as we've had in the secondary," Chavis said. "Talent alone isn't going to make you a good player. Working, attitude, learning the system, playing within the system, all those things will make you a good player. Not giving up big plays, and that's where we're going to have to grow back there."

During Thursday's practice, UT coach Phillip Fulmer talked to the defense about the importance of improving on last year's total of 25 takeaways.

"The experience should certainly help the secondary," Fulmer said. "Hopefully it will pay off. Where we really have to improve is in our pass rush. If we can make a quarterback have to work or move or throw a ball on the run or tip a ball or those kind of things, those things (turnovers) go way up. We didn't nearly reach our goal in that area last year, although we did it much better the last part of the season."

Finding that pass rush is a major focal point this spring, as is breaking in two new starters at linebacker.

But a good secondary can go a long way toward masking problems in the front seven.

"You go back and look at several years - and I may get one or two of them wrong - but when Gibril (Wilson), Jabari (Greer) and that group was in here, that was the strength of our football team.

"We were very, very average up front, but it never showed because of what we got done in the secondary. It gives you some flexibility, and it will take some of the pressure off the front and we're going to need that to happen until we get some guys up to speed."

Drew Edwards covers University of Tennessee football. He may be reached at 865-342-6274.

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Comments » 43

oldschoolvol writes:

We are always very, very average up front. Very, very frustrating.

newtonrail writes:

Haynesworth and Henerson average?

pdhuff#552644 writes:

When SEC coaches want to show players how a play should work as drawn up, they pull out the 2007 vs Tenn film.

11th out of 12. Shameful. Defensive changes- zero. Staying the course. Family.

VOLinDAWGland writes:

Thanks for the reminder pdhuff, let me see if I got it...
- Nothing ever changes year to year - check
- Kids never improve year to year - check
- There's no dynamic between play of secondary and front seven so that improvement in secondary can mean improvement in front seven effectiveness - check
- This defensive staff has never, ever coached a top defensive unit and will never again - check

All is doom, might as well plan on filling up Saturdays with something else...and let's not have any fun simply enjoying the spring's hope eternal.

pdhuff#552644 writes:

volinDawgLand - you didn't quite get it as I meant it. Let's review

Nothing ever changes - didn't say that
Kids never improve - didn't say that
defensive staff has never ever coached a top defensive unit - didn't say that

However do believe there's little positive dynamic between
a secondary forced to play back on its heels because of no pass rush and constantly wide-open 7 yds outs.

Now if you're happy with a 11th place defense and constantly expect the offense to bail us out, that's your right. I'm not. Notice I said if.

We'll see this fall if keeping this defensive staff intact was the right thing to do.Those DTs last fall gave the effort, didn't have the talent to play in the SEC.

Go Vols.

jweaver3#395614 writes:

I believe Dan Brooks gets the most of his line that he can. We have got to upgrade the dline in the future, We are putting undersized speed rushers up front who cannot get to the passer!!!
The pure talent in the secondary will make up for our coaching deficency there. Should be interesting at LB.
I agree with pdhuff, I'm not happy with 11th place and if we don't improve on the line it may not get any better.
Hope I'm wrong
GO VOLS
TXVOLSFAN

jweaver3#395614 writes:

I believe Dan Brooks gets the most of his line that he can. We have got to upgrade the dline in the future, We are putting undersized speed rushers up front who cannot get to the passer!!!
The pure talent in the secondary will make up for our coaching deficency there. Should be interesting at LB.
I agree with pdhuff, I'm not happy with 11th place and if we don't improve on the line it may not get any better.
Hope I'm wrong
GO VOLS
TXVOLSFAN

VOLinDAWGland writes:

Oh I got what you were saying...just being a bit sarcastic regarding your continued negative outlook. You could and may be perfectly correct. I just find it a bit tiring to always pounding on the negative. I mean after umpteen posts I think we get it...questionable DT's, diminishing performance from the D coaching and poor D stats. I don't know what the constant realist/gloomy posts are attempting to accomplish. It's not going to change anything...Fulmer is the coach or won't be regardless of what is posted here, coaches won't change their coaching based on postings here. I just don't get the point of continuously harping on the negative. This is supposed to be fun, if it's not, than get another hobby.

pdhuff#552644 writes:

Agree Volin Dawgland - Tenn football should be "fun". Too often its not. Saying "Fulmer will be our coach" is saying forget any ongoing problems and don't address them.

Harping is simply cold reality. One has to face the truth sometimes. I dream of Al Wilson and Haynesworths and then see reality. Enjoy reading your "harping" on my view which isn't yours.

PS - not my hobby, so I don't have to get another one. Have a good day.

bigbluevol writes:

Two years before (2005) all anyone could find to say as a positive was about the play of the defense. I swear that I think Vol fans suffer from short term memory loss. Has Bolden been everything the coaches thought he could be? No. He still has one year left to show us. Martin is supposedly a beast off the edge, that should help. The secondary being better will make a huge difference because Chavis will now have the confidence to blitz, believing his secondary can cover receivers longer than 2 seconds and one-on-one. The coverages we played last year were soft because we didn't want to get beat deep and because we weren't comfortable playing press-man. Now that the DB's have shown improvement and we've got potentially two safeties (Morley and Berry) that can clean up the mess, the defense should be able to be more aggressive. We will not finish 11th in the conference in D this year. And, since it's so obvious that all the jokers on here will say it, we won't be 12th either. Somewhere from 4th to 6th at least.

pdhuff#552644 writes:

bigbluevol - 9:40 4th to sixth will win 10 and put us in a BCS game. You go, man!

sjt18 9:40 - good post - the buzz word is "risk". The few blitzes we tried last year were picked up easily. I feel we'll be a little better, but I think Chavis is suffering in silence about lack of recruited talent. Moving our best LB prospect to DE tells you our situation.

Vol in Dawgland is right about my overfocusing on DLs. Guilty! Maybe its because I'd never seen as poor play as we produced. Remember that's the best we had to put out there. Well, lets beat UAB and see what happens.

We'll all hope and dream, but as the bookies say, "read the bulbs". They never lie.

GoVol writes:

Chavis - "We were very, very average up front, but it never showed because of what we got done in the secondary."

John - trust us, it showed...very much so. When the DB's are making the majority of the tackles on running plays, it is showing.

When the DB's have to cover their zone/man longer than they should have to, it is showing.

Not sure what Chavis is really trying to say, but I hope he is taking the debacle of the defensive line as serious as we all know it to be as fans?

bigbluevol writes:

pd- I really think that the secondary's growth will allow us to use a variety of blitzes this year. I also sometimes wish we would leave LB's at LB, but I know the idea is to get the speed on the edges. I just hope we can at least try Williams at LB before we move him to end. His size and speed at LB would be intimidating to say the least.

vol_in_lsu_land writes:

Sometimes I picture people on this site standing on an imaginary street corner on Kingston Pike with a cardboard sign and a bell, tolling the impending doom of UT football if Fulmer doesn't resign. Lawd have mercy!!!! SJT, is there anything in Revelations about the Big Orange horseman? LOL

VOLinDAWGland writes:

bigblue...they suffer both from short term memory loss and long term romanticizing of a glorious history particularly Johnny's.

VOLinDAWGland writes:

pdhuff said,
"Harping is simply cold reality. One has to face the truth sometimes."

It's spring football for crying out loud. Can't we have a brief period of just watching what evolves without all the drudging up of last year which may or may not be relovant for next year?

Cold hard reality can only reveal itself game by game this fall...which could potentially be all warm and fuzzy.

Your cold, hard reality is nothing more than conjecture at this point as it relates to 2008 season so quit trying to represent it as anything else.

VOLinDAWGland writes:

pdhuff said,
"I dream of Al Wilson and Haynesworths..."

You may want to see someone about that.

vol_in_lsu_land writes:

Dawgland.

You're wasting your breath. This is the one place some of these people can go where their little pipsqueak voice seems to actually "mean something". Allow them their place in the spotlight, its all they have.

VOLinDAWGland writes:

Good point vol_in_lsu_land.

Being realistic in assessment even when it is not pleasant is fine and good and part of the whole picture, I have no issue with that. It's just that some insist on continous 'harping' the negative which gets old.

Perhaps the best approach should be a positive comment for every negative one even if it is not on the same topic. Just to keep the tone balanced and hopefully tipping towards upbeat.

I'd love to see the Vols take the next step and maintain it for an extended period of time and there's no doubt been some rocky seasons over the past several, but I'd still rather be in our position than over a 100 other programs out there all things considered.

thesavageorange writes:

Foolmore ,I saw that too.Hope it isn't as much as the UGA increase.

bordenride writes:

Fat Phil ave.s 9.4 wins a season after 15 seasons.
1 National title; two SEC titles; 5 East Division tiltes. 8 seasons with 10 or MORE WINS! Note: MORE
meaning 11,13,11 win seasons. Five other years with 10 wins.
So... is there anyone out there that if you knew Fulmer and staff might do this exact same thing in the next 15 years, no one would want it?
How many coaches out there are there that could replicate this over the next 13,14,15 years or so in the SEC? Ya'll think about it....

ThaiVolFan writes:

bordenride,
appreciate your comments....VERY TRUE!

Go Vols,

the rest of you regular posters who claim to be fans but are really haters,
take a long hike off a short bridge....get a life and roll out you dumb arm chair punks who have have never played a snap in your life except in your deranged minds........get a clue. I've read all of your seemingly smart posts(more smart a$$ than smart) for over a year now..... most of you are just touchdown tn disciples who couldn't think for yourselves if you had your own brains.....

over & out....

pdhuff#552644 writes:

VolinDawgland- my only response is 11th. Spin that any way you wish. We're heading into our 10th "next year". Enjoy your posts. We just see different things.

If we fans really concentrated on the important areas of life, they're be a shortage of rod and reels.

Hope they make it to a BCS game

All are welcome.

VOLinDAWGland writes:

pdhuff,
I think we see the same things, it's more a matter of what we each choose to emphasize and focus on.

pdhuff#552644 writes:

sjt18 I would venture they "had" to get better after 2005. Would you mind not bringing up 2005? I'd almost forgotten. LOL

pdhuff#552644 writes:

Gen Fritter, you may have grounds against sjt18, at least in small claims court. Will be a long proceeding possibly, could be contentious if HC's name is brought up.

Few things in life equal the pull of a largemouth. My cousin Joe S. is a crappie master. He was fishing Cordell Hull in 3 feet of water with his ultralite rig (small minnow) when a 11 lb channel cat brought him out of his reverie. Nearly had to handline him in.

I remind posters from time to time that bass get big by not rising to the bait.

Go Vols.

VOLinDAWGland writes:

pdhuff said - I remind posters from time to time that bass get big by not rising to the bait.

Good one...LOL!!!!!

pdhuff#552644 writes:

Gen - the farm borders the Corp property (they took 27 acres on impoundment). We have about a 10 ft wide creek-ever flowing- thru the property along with Labs and Beagles. Ol' utmdm knows this area.

It is truly a great area of the country, 95% Big Orange, capped off with no cell phone service. I love it, Ma isn't happy. She waits till we get 8 miles away to flip her phone on. Lake is so remote - no fishing pressure. Had rockfish record until two years ago. A fellow broke off a 82 pounder and found him the next morning floating. Told the truth and state wouldn't recognize him as a record.

The best day is when I do absolutely nothing.

Go Vols, keep winning.

RJ_Vol writes:

Let's have the coaching staff repeat three times. Ben Martin. Ben Martin. Ben Martin. If he's as good as billed, he should be an absolute force off the end. I think he would have had a "Berry" like impact last year without an injury... or was it an injury? This may be one of the hardest hitting defenses they've had in Knoxville in some time.

zjcvols#543765 writes:

Let me say this, Eric Berry could become the best defensive player in UT history, this could is amazing. Absolutely incredible. He was the best defensive player last year, as a freshman, playing a position he never played before, amazing

waterskier3#226480 writes:

we'll see how much improved when the lights go at ucla and fla.... bottom line after last year they have a lot to improve on... to many second half let downs, 3rd and long...... missed tackles in sec on every skilled player they were up against... so yes much can be improved... will it happen.... this fall will tell us....

so lets all be happy i suspect this fall we'll have plenty to write about

pdhuff#552644 writes:

waterskier3, I'm glad to see that you found the yellow brick road. Really hope the tornado isn't UCLA. LOL

160+ and counting. Doldrums.

TommyJack writes:

PD: Now I seen why you trim those Hawthornes when commanded.

givehim6 writes:

We maybe just average on the line, but sounds like we'll have it together on the backfield, maybe to stop some long runs and get some picks.

wjackson#226202 writes:

Dome and Glome people. Dome and Glome!!!

99gator writes:

i wrote the following on 3/10/08

i will be rooting for tenn and think the league sleeper is arkansas. arkansas is deeper and more talented than all other teams in the league, except tenn. i don't know why they did not have a better year, but they did not.

i was referring to the ncaa tourney....but, hey

99gator writes:

oops, wrong thread. sorry, folks.

pdhuff#552644 writes:

99gator-have another one for me. LOL

pdhuff#552644 writes:

sjt18, true- I'm afraid we'll have to keep on longing, but hey, maybe they'll surprise me.

They sold a lot of beer last year at our favorite sports bar during a couple of game. LOL

douglasawilliams#582863 writes:

11 out of 12 in SEC is shamefull pdhuff. Somehow we must get better up front. As we all know we were 3 missed field goals from being 6-6 in the regular season. I do expect the secondary to be better and that may help, but it doesn't address the fundamental weakness up front and every school that plays us will exploit us up front. The good news is Morley is a great tackler something Hefney was not but these guys shouldn't have to make as many tackles as they do. I don't know what to expect but please no more butt whippings by Alabama and Florida.

LargeOrange writes:

Ever heard of a "coverage sack"? That is what Chavis and CPF were trying to say that our deep and talented secondary may do to help our underwelming D-Line at times.

volusherG writes:

Hey VOL fans!
How about helping a BIG ORANGE BROTHER out!
Click or copy and paste the link below and vote for awVols1985, the TENNESSEE representative on CBSsportsline's Member Mayhem contest! Let's keep UT in the essay tournament too!
Thanks for your interest and participation!

http://www.sportsline.com/mcc/message....

GO VOLS ! ! !

volusherG writes:

Once you get there, click on the page 1 link to go to the voting box !
Thanks and

GO VOLS ! ! !

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